Love Measured in Rabbits
by Rosie Garland, 3.24am May 10th 2021
The first rabbit to emerge is white. It squeezes out of your navel, ears dragged back, eyes bulging. A viscous pop, and it slithers to the floor. After a few minutes, the second follows. This one is red. It shakes its head, wet ears flapping, and lopes away to join its twin under the coffee table.
‘You should see a doctor,’ says your sister. ‘Things shouldn’t come out of your bellybutton. Except for lint, and that’s grey.’
‘The word is navel,’ you say, finding the energy to correct her despite the effort of childbirth. You wonder if that should be rabbit-birth. ‘Only children say bellybutton.’
She grunts an answer. The rabbits are quick on their paws. Still birth-blind, they run into the wall where they slump sideways, confused. The moment the dizziness wears off, they take a few tentative hops before speeding up and walloping into the wall again.
‘Stop that!’ you cry. ‘You’ll hurt yourselves.’
‘Which do you love the most?’ asks your sister. ‘The red or the white?’
‘You could give me some help,’ you pant, mopping stains from the carpet.
She frowns. ‘Don’t change the subject. You have to choose a favourite. No-one loves their children equally.’
‘Like Mother?’ you sneer.
She leaves in a huff without lifting a finger. She’s back the day after, carrying a casserole dish of hefty orange stoneware. The rabbits take one look at it and lollop under the sofa. Their eyes glitter like terrified fairy lights.
‘You’re not suggesting,’ you say.
‘Would it kill you to show some gratitude?’ she cries, slamming the bowl onto the table. ‘These things cost a fortune. Nothing I ever do is good enough.’ She fires a long look at the third finger of your left hand. The skin is bare. ‘Mother says it’s disgusting. Having children out of wedlock.’
‘They’re rabbits,’ you say, through gritted teeth. ‘And they’re mine.’
‘No sign of a boyfriend, let alone a husband. You’re bringing shame onto the family.’
That’s when it strikes you. ‘You don’t just sound like Mother,’ you say. ‘You look like her.’
She pats her helmet of tight curls and smiles. ‘You’ve always been jealous. No-one will ever love you. Or your bastards,’ she says, stabbing a finger in the direction of the sofa. ‘They’re revolting. And so are you.’
She slams the door behind her, leaving the three of you in peace. You get on your knees and peer beneath the settee.
‘You are my children,’ you coo. ‘And I love you whatever.’
A small paw appears, followed by another. The rabbits scurry into your arms. Their ears seem shorter, their mouths wider. They look more human, for lack of a better word. They wriggle into your armpits, noses tickling the stubbly skin. Each is the size of a large loaf. You’ve no idea how you carried them both without noticing.
You wonder if love is dependent on size: if you will love them less because they’re smaller than human babies, or more, because all your love is concentrated into a tiny space.